History of Irish Cuisine
In a previous blog ‘The Lip Smacking Influence Of Irish Cuisine’ we explored how the Irish became dependent on the humble potato in days of yore. However, what happened before the spud came into existence for our Irish ancestors? For literally thousands of years, the staple diet for the people was grain and wheat based such as oats and barley.
Rich and Poor Fare
This is understandable if we take into account the fact that all of the meat went to the aristocracy, which were quite few in number compared to the poverty rates. Those who couldn’t afford quality food had to grow it from the land. However, both rich and poor dined on bread, which was considered one of the most important parts of their daily diet. The importance of meat burgeoned at certain times in history, but there were some periods during which crop production grew in prominence. During such times, cattle were kept as a source of milk production for dairy products such as cheese and curd.
When cattle was plentiful, both the rich and the poor gorged on meat, both from caged animals and any animal that could be hunted from the wild such as birds, wild boar, deer etc. Even hedgehogs were considered a delicacy.
During the 16th century, large swathes of land were cultivated for crop production but some were prepared to maintain large cattle; the decision mostly depended on the type of land the owner had. Regardless of produce, farmers would sell their fares either directly to households, their liege lords or to agents who took it to larger towns to sell. However, those who were forced to sell to landlords often had to do so at slashed prices that were well below market rates.
Until the mid 1700s, most farmers preferred to keep some hens and a cow to take care of their own needs. Those who lived close to the sea typically collected eggs of wild birds and fish such shellfish. This was considered typical peasant fare including limpets, crabs, clams and mussels. Some farmers would even collect seafood to sell to the peasantry since it could be used to make a sweet dish with milk and honey which was both delicious and nutritious.
Vegetables were not cultivated in Ireland until the 8th century and anything that could be picked wild from the land was preferred such as berries, fungi and wild leaves. Once the idea of growing a crop took root, vegetables such as carrots, celery, turnips, onions and cabbages entered the Irish cuisine. Fruits and hazelnuts also came into existence, but apples were predominantly preferred till the 1500s.
The cuisine received a new perspective when English colonists arrived in the mid 17th century. Suddenly, home owners started growing their own vegetables and orchards in their backyards along with new fruits such as strawberries, cherries, peaches, nectarines and plums. This also included a wealth of exotic spices and sugar, but the poor still had to contend with honey, salt and sometimes even fish to season their food.
Get a taste of the finest cuisine Ireland has to offer at Trinity Bar Venue. We have the best burgers in town along with 20 HD screens so you won’t miss any of the action during the RWC 2015.